We have a serious problem in Christianity when even the pastors insist that Christian believers have no rules to follow. Well, at least none of God's rules.
Oh, they say we have some rules, but nothing that is hard and fast. Each person can pretty much decide "in his own mind" what rules he or she will follow and "lean on their own understanding" rather than obey what God has in mind and told us outright. In fact, at a sermon in my wife's church last Sunday, the pastor preached that the "whole law" was no longer in effect for Gentiles.
You can hear it at BPChurch.com listed under On Mission for August 26, 2018. The subject was Acts 15-19. It takes bout 43 minutes to hear the whole thing, but you will get the idea after about 15 minutes. I didn't actually attend the service, but listened to the sermon online. His point, Christians have almost no hard rules to follow in order to gain eternal life. His justification? The Jerusalem Council mentioned in Acts 15 and generally placed at around 48 A.D.
I guess he has never read Colossians chapter 3. He evidently doesn't know that there is an Old Testament reason for 1 Corinthians 5. I guess he has never contemplated the meaning of Matthew 7:21
17Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
The Jerusalem Council
You remember the Jerusalem Council. Some Jews had begun to believe that Christ was, indeed, the Messiah, but they still held that the Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul and others sharply disagreed. So, the council met and made a decision about whether or not circumcision would be required of the Gentiles. (After all, no one would want to have the Gentiles do anything Jeeewwwiiish. That would be horrible.)
What was the outcome of the council? They had four simple rules to follow (Acts 15:28-29
28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
abstain from food sacrificed to idols,
abstain from sexual immorality (Leviticus 20:10-16
10 " 'If a man commits adultery with another man's wife - with the wife of his neighbor - both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.
11 " 'If a man has sexual relations with his father's wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
12 " 'If a man has sexual relations with his daughter-in-law, both of them are to be put to death. What they have done is a perversion; their blood will be on their own heads.
13 " 'If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
14 " 'If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you.
15 " 'If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he is to be put to death, and you must kill the animal.
16 " 'If a woman approaches an animal to have sexual relations with it, kill both the woman and the animal. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.' "
, Leviticus 18:1-16
1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'I am the Lord your God. 3 You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. 4 You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. 5 Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord.
6 " 'No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the Lord.
7 " 'Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her.
8 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your father's wife; that would dishonor your father.
9 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father's daughter or your mother's daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere.
10 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your son's daughter or your daughter's daughter; that would dishonor you.
11 " 'Do not have sexual relations with the daughter of your father's wife, born to your father; she is your sister.
12 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your father's sister; she is your father's close relative.
13 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your mother's sister, because she is your mother's close relative.
14 " 'Do not dishonor your father's brother by approaching his wife to have sexual relations; she is your aunt.
15 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law. She is your son's wife; do not have relations with her.
16 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your brother's wife; that would dishonor your brother.
17 " 'Do not have sexual relations with both a woman and her daughter. Do not have sexual relations with either her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter; they are her close relatives. That is wickedness.
18 " 'Do not take your wife's sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.
19 " 'Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period.
20 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor's wife and defile yourself with her.
21 " 'Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.
22 " 'Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.
23 " 'Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.
24 " 'Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25 Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28 And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.
29 " 'Everyone who does any of these detestable things - such persons must be cut off from their people. 30 Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the Lord your God.' "
, Deuteronomy 22:13-25
13 If a man takes a wife and, after sleeping with her, dislikes her 14 and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, "I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity," 15 then the young woman's father and mother shall bring to the town elders at the gate proof that she was a virgin. 16 Her father will say to the elders, "I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. 17 Now he has slandered her and said, 'I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.' But here is the proof of my daughter's virginity." Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, 18 and the elders shall take the man and punish him. 19 They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the young woman's father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.
20 If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman's virginity can be found, 21 she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father's house. You must purge the evil from among you.
22 If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.
23 If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, 24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death - the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man's wife. You must purge the evil from among you.
25 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die.
abstain from the meat of strangled animals (Deuteronomy 14:21
21 Do not eat anything you find already dead. You may give it to the foreigner residing in any of your towns, and they may eat it, or you may sell it to any other foreigner. But you are a people holy to the Lord your God.
Explanation: A properly killed animal has been killed while alive so that the heart can pump the blood out of the body, leaving only a small amount to be drained after death., with explanation of origin) and
do not eat blood (Lev 17:10-14
10 I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people. 11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life. 12 Therefore I say to the Israelites, 'None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood.'
13 " 'Any Israelite or any foreigner residing among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, 14 because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, "You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off." ' "
"But, wait, those are Jewish..."
Notice anything about these four "rules"? They are all Jewish requirements, with three of them given by God "only to the Israelites" that we can see in the Old Testament (see the verses in the list above). Well, really they are all required by God of everyone, but He actually only spoke them to the Israelites. One of them originally applied only to the Jews and foreigners living with them (Deuteronomy 14:21 above), but the Jerusalem Council made it apply to Gentiles as well.
Then, the very next thing...
Based on an insight from the site at The Emmaus Group, I noticed something that had never struck me before, even though it is right in front of me. Looking in Acts 15, starting at verse 20, we see the verse where Paul presents to the Council his thoughts about what should be presented to the Gentiles who are "turning to God". He presents to them the four requirements with which the Gentiles should concern themselves as new Christians. Those are the foundation for beginning their journey, so he felt that they need not burden them with more because... The very next verse explains why these are the only recommendations from the Council:
21"For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath."
In other words, "we need not require more of them because they will learn the rest in the synagogues where Moses' law is read every Sabbath!" This also tells us that the Gentiles were worshiping in the synagogues with the Jews on the Sabbath - not on Sunday like your pastor says.
Not becoming Jewish, but following God's will in His commands...
So, what are we to take from this? Do these four requirements override Jesus' statement in Matthew 7:21
21Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
? Many today honestly think that this list of four items is the only set of rules that the Gentiles must follow. Why, then, would Paul make the statement in Acts 15:21
21"For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath."
? Also, even if you follow only the four, you are doing something Jewish that was "only given to the Israelites".
So, if we are not to become like the Jews, do we even have to follow these four? But, wait, wasn't the Jerusalem Council speaking to the Gentiles? I'm confused as to how people can twist things so easily to where they make no sense at all.
So, now, do you think you can...
Does that mean that if a man sees another man's car that he can't do without, it's OK to just kill the owner and take it? No? Why not? Really. Don't just try to ridicule the question by saying, "Come on, that's silly." Answer the question. If you say that man's laws forbid that, you are just avoiding the question. If you say, "Yes.", then at least you are being honest, but how does that fit with the way you actually live your life? If we just want to take the Lord's name in vain, do we even have to worry about it now? Why not? Those laws still apply to all of us, but following just them will not save us.
Also, and here is the part where this "new" interpretation causes trouble with people: not following the principle of the moral law will cost you your salvation. Not even just the letter, but the principle of the law. The principle of the law is more strict than the letter (or words) of the law. That's what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7). How is it that "modern" pastors can say that they live by these principles, yet teach others that they do not matter?
Hypocrisy or just confused?
It's one thing to give a sermon that promises that people are free in Christ, but does that mean free to disobey God? We have always had that "freedom", it's just not very smart to do it. If you say that the law is abrogated, that kind of "freedom" is exactly what you are saying. If you think that the Jerusalem Council did away with the law for Gentiles, how would you explain that to a non-believer?
Suppose you were house-sitting for a friend for a month while staying there, and he gave you a list of things to do:
feed the dog
lock the doors at night before you retire
bring in the mail
Did I have to tell you everything...?
What do you think he would say when he came home and your dirty clothes were all over the house, the sink was full of dirty dishes, there was dog poop all over the living room carpet, and the drapes were laying on the floor from the parties you had every weekend? How would you answer? "Well, you didn't say I had to do all that!"
There are some things that do not have to be spoken aloud to still be required. That's the job of the Holy Spirit - to remind us of the law written in our hearts (Romans 2: 14-15
14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)
, Jeremiah 31:31-34
31"The days are coming," declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
32It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,"
declares the Lord.
33This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time," declares the Lord.
I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, 'Know the Lord,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,"
declares the Lord.
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more."
Well, after a little research, it seems that this is a common interpretation for the modern
Christian church. My wife's previous church happens to be a Baptist church, but the view is common among all the Sunday-keeping churches across the country. To be thorough, I did a search and found that last statement to be true. So, since the majority of churches out there believe that the law is gone for Gentiles, it must be true, right?
Oops, the original church stand was different?
Rather than just accept that, I searched for possible contradictions that this position would cause in the Bible. This was not just to be contrary, but the pastor actually mentioned in his sermon we mentioned above that when we interpret something in the Bible, it should match the meaning of the whole word of God.
Jesus didn't come to change anything
Of course, I found things like Matthew 5:17-20
17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."
and Romans 3:31
31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
. It is interesting that these verses were not addressed in this sermon - only a few others that, when taken alone not considering contradictions, support his modern interpretation.
No changes there...
Continuing the search, I found dissenting opinions, including Ancient Faith Ministries, a blog of the Archangel Gabriel Orthodox Church by Fr. Stephen De Young. The author here analyzes the "modern" stand by examining the suspect stand by using the text in context, showing the fallacy of any conclusion about the law no longer applying to Christians.
Wait, just a minute
However, the most interesting dissenting opinion was at the-highway.com. It was interesting for two reasons. First, the article was titled "The Moral Law", by Ernest F. Kevan, subtitled "The Law not Abrogated by Christ to Believers". Now, if you think this is just another millennial opinion by some crackpot pastor of a rival church, let me put your mind at ease with the second reason. The description of the author of the article said:
"Dr. Ernest F. Kevan, a Ph.D. graduate of the University of London, was a Baptist minister from 1924 to 1946 before being called to be Principal of London Bible College, where he labored until his death in 1965."
This Baptist minister held exactly the opposite view from the Baptist minister of my wife's church. His article is very thorough and covers Acts 15 as well as some of the contradictions caused by the modern stand.
"Wait, we have changed it? Based on what?"
Did you get that? He was a Baptist pastor long before the age of "everyone's opinion is valid" and "Christ will save eveyone, disobedient or not". Today the Baptist, and many other, pastors take a totally different, much softer stand on any sort of rules that suppress the "natural man" and hinder our desires.
"Nobody told us, we just changed it..."
Of course, the Baptists are generally independent churches and are not "controlled" by a central office, even though they have a Baptist General Conference (now called Converge Worldwide) that is trying to get the Baptists unified. What would cause such a huge difference in the interpretation of the same Bible by the same church over 50 years? The Bible says the same thing now as it did back then. Dr Kevan had a Ph.D. and was Principal of the London Bible College, so we can assume that he was not a dummy. What happened?
Why? "Just because..."
Well, how about a hint? The very beginning of Dr. Kevan's article says this:
"The basic question of the historic antinomian controversy was whether or not the moral Law of God is abrogated in the Gospel; and it was the assertion that it is thus abrogated which gave Antinomianism its name. This issue is presenting itself again in connection with some of the current and popular expositions of the doctrine of sanctification."
Then the first line of the second paragraph:
"The answer to the question about the abrogation of the Law is given categorically by Paul when he writes, 'Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law' (Romans iii. 31)".
Same problem, different time
Notice the phrase in the first paragraph, "presenting itself again in connection with some of the current and popular expositions of the doctrine of sanctification". There was a "movement" even then that softened the actual message of the Bible. That "movement" is a feeling that is still in the air today. People have been feeling so "free" to do what they want with modern "traditions" that they refuse to even consider the fact that God never wanted them to go there. (Mark 7:8 and 7:13
8You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions."
13Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that."
Make sure it matches the whole word
Then he goes on to explain Paul's intent in the verses leading up to this statement. Well, imagine that. The good doctor actually states that we can't make something up about what the Bible means that does not agree with what the rest of the Bible says.
OK, he didn't say those words, but that exact idea is there. He explains that what is abrogated is the idea that obedience to the law alone will get you saved. Never does Paul even intimate that you never have to obey the law.
For those of you who say, "Yeah, but that was only for the Israelites.", remember that Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles, and this advice was from the Jerusalem Council. He confirmed this in Acts 13:46
46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles."
after spending some time trying to convince the non-Messianic Jews that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. For those of you who have trouble with numbers, chapter 13 comes before chapter 15, which describes the results of the Jerusalem Council.
Well, this exposed a term that you don't hear too often in today's sermons - Antinomianism. Let's get everyone on the same boat with a definition:
Definition of antinomian. 1 : one who holds that under the gospel dispensation of grace (see GRACE entry 1 sense 1a) the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation. 2 : one who rejects a socially established morality.
To be thorough, here is the entry for "GRACE entry 1 sense 1a":
Definition of grace
(Entry 1 of 2)
1a : unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification
b : a virtue coming from God
c : a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance
While this is a softer, romanticized version of the definition of antinomian, it is the one most espoused by Christians who feel that the law does not apply to Christians at all. However, this stand obligates one who holds it to try to explain the contradictions caused by the view. The question "What is antinomianism?" is answered at Got Questions? in a more thorough manner:
Question: "What is antinomianism?"
Answer: The word antinomianism comes from two Greek words, anti, meaning "against"; and nomos, meaning "law." Antinomianism means "against the law." Theologically, antinomianism is the belief that there are no moral laws God expects Christians to obey. Antinomianism takes a biblical teaching to an unbiblical conclusion. The biblical teaching is that Christians are not required to observe the Old Testament Law as a means of salvation. When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He fulfilled the Old Testament Law (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-25; Ephesians 2:15). The unbiblical conclusion is that there is no moral law God expects Christians to obey.
The apostle Paul dealt with the issue of antinomianism in Romans 6:1-2, "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" The most frequent attack on the doctrine of salvation by grace alone is that it encourages sin. People may wonder, "If I am saved by grace and all my sins are forgiven, why not sin all I want?" That thinking is not the result of true conversion because true conversion yields a greater desire to obey, not a lesser one. God's desire - and our desire when we are regenerated by His Spirit - is that we strive not to sin. Out of gratitude for His grace and forgiveness, we want to please Him. God has given us His infinitely gracious gift in salvation through Jesus (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). Our response is to consecrate our lives to Him out of love, worship, and gratitude for what He has done for us (Romans 12:1-2). Antinomianism is unbiblical in that it misapplies the meaning of God's gracious favor.
The article goes on, as you can see at the site at the blue link right above the box above, but you get the idea. This view is more common than you would think, but you never hear the term "antinomian" used by the people who hold it because it is too negative - however true it may be. Some call this abrogation concept "freedom in Christ", but calling a lie by a pleasant name doesn't change it into the truth.
So, boiling it down, how is it that by saying that "obedience to the law alone will not save you", some pretty smart pastors wind up telling people that "the law never applied to Gentiles"? While it is very clear that the Gentiles do not have to become Jews, that does not release them from the same rules that the rest of society must follow - especially the Moral Law of the ten commandments.
Paul even criticized a member of the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:1
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father's wife.
), written around 54 A.D. This was six years after the Jerusalem Council. His concern was for something that was not even listed in the Ten Commandments, but was given in Leviticus 18:8
8Do not have sexual relations with your father's wife; that would dishonor your father.
. And, no, this was not his mother, that was covered in Leviticus 18:7
7Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her.
. This was more likely his stepmother, and probably happened after his father had died.
This question is, how is it that those Gentiles weren't "free from keeping the law" by the decision of this council at Jerusalem? Because, even though they were Gentiles, according to Paul they were still bound by the requirements of the Old Testament law.
We are free, but still bound by God's law
Remember 1 Corinthians 9:21
21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law.
? That "free", Gentile, "bound by God's law" but "not under the law" Corinthian man was now "under the law" and owed the penalty required, at least until he repented, asked forgiveness, and discontinued the sin. Why? Because he claimed to be in Christ while disobeying God's law (1 John 2:4
4Whoever says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.
). That's why Paul's recommendation was so harsh in 1 Corinthians 5:5
5hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
. "Bound by the requirements of the law" does not mean "under the law" unless you break it willingly. Pastors who claim that we are "not bound by God's law" must follow that by saying that Paul was in error when he chastised the man and his congregation for merely breaking God's commands.
You can go "under the law" if you break it, but you are not "under it" until you do
Paul makes it clear that this man owed the penalty for breaking God's law. He would not be clear until he repented. His act was not only done willingly on his part, but was wrongly tolerated by his congregation. Being bound by the law means you can't just ignore it without consequences - even after the Jerusalem Council. So, which side are you on, Paul's judgment of a man who ignored God's law, or your pastor who says that's OK to do because the law does not apply to us?
His way, not ours
If you are a Gentile Christian and you commit adultery or take the Lord's name in vain, you have broken the Moral Law and are then "under the law" and owe the penalty required. Breaking any of God's commandments puts you in the same state. The Jerusalem Council never changed that for anybody. To interpret it some other way, and then to teach others that way, is a subtle way of telling God, "We'd rather do it our way than Yours." But we should keep in mind one small thing - Paul's words to us in Romans 2:16
16This will take place on the day when God judges people's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
- and remember Who is going to judge us for our faith and our obedience based on His will, not ours.
Disagree? Find an error? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and give us your view.